Saving together for a brighter tomorrow

50-year-old Ali Bilal is a Community - Based Trainer (CBT) from Maji Mazuri in Baringo County, Kenya. He has been a CBT since 2013. A CBT provides support to saving groups at the community level. 

“I heard about the IFP project from my area chief. When I finally met Swisscontact, the project implementers, I was keen on having an association with them since I have a passion to help my community. They were open to engaging with me and even facilitated a week-long training in Nakuru. As part of the training, I learnt how to form gender-balanced groups, develop group constitutions, proper record-keeping skills and group continuity. These were all skills I did not previously possess. After the training, I started going around the communities within my area to raise awareness on the importance of group saving, convincing eligible men and women to form groups.” 

As a CBT, Ali is not only responsible for the group formations but also offers support to the members. “I teach six modules. They are centred around the importance of saving, the right steps to go through for successful group formation, debt management and budgeting. To form successful groups, critical screening is important. I also teach members this skill. Screening is making an assessment based on one’s manners, marriage status, and work ethic.” Ali goes all around the communities within Maji Mazuri trying to educate as many people as he can. He goes to churches, mosques and even small communes. “I’m well known here as a community-based trainer. If I find an opportunity to get people’s attention, I take it. I leave my number, and those who are interested call me. Saving is important. Our future is so uncertain and it’s important to create a buffer for unforeseen incidences,” he comments. 

All these lessons have made a big difference with the 38 groups Ali handles. Many members did not know how to invest their money and access loans. Seeing how dangerous their methods were, Ali Bilal is glad he was able to make a difference for them.  

“I met many who would put money under their mattresses or stash it in a secret place in their houses. They have changed for the better. I am excited to leave the house and go encourage people to form groups since I want to create meaningful change in my community. Many young men and women were lost. I have helped them spend their money wisely and cater to their every need. I have also imparted these skills to my children. My family is doing better than most.” 

Even with his success and achievements, Ali still faces some challenges. Sometimes groups do not follow the guidelines in their constitution. For example, some are often late with loan payments while others do not show up for training as arranged. Despite this, Ali is still a respected teacher whose lessons are well-received. Ali is also very proactive in supporting the groups and linking them to formal financial institutions. He feels very proud when he sees members' lives improving. 

“I have successfully linked 22 groups with different institutions like Shirika ya Faida, Equity Bank, Skyline, and Boresha SACCO. I recently linked 110 members with the Kenya Women Microfinance Bank. To be considered for larger pools of money from these institutions, the groups need to prove their legality and provide adequate records of recent transactions. This is where the automation intervention helped us,” explains Ali. 

32-year-old Jacinta Mwongeli is an automation champion within the same area. She currently supports five heterogeneous groups. The automation intervention introduced by Swisscontact encouraged record-keeping using smartphones. Previously, groups would record their financial information manually. This was marked with a lot of human error. The IFP project strengthened the capacities of the automation champions through trainings. They provided the champions with mobile phones to train different groups within their communities and provide technical support. 

“In the beginning, it was hard for many group members to understand how to manoeuvre around Chamasoft, the automation application. I was also nervous at first but once I understood how to use it, I liked it. I was chosen as an automation champion because I caught on to it fast. Many group members are elderly and own feature phones so trying to convert them was an uphill task. After several demonstrations and constantly explaining the benefits, they began opening up and many are now using the platform.” 

Jacinta is one of the youngest members of the groups she supports. As the app administrator, she keeps records of what the members are doing. If there is a problem, her job is to follow up and help resolve it. She strengthens the member knowledge on how to properly use the app. 

“As a champion, I see the importance of using this app. Before we started using phones, members did not have easy access to their transaction records. Now everything is transparent. Members get regular notifications about the group finances. For instance, if a member deposits or withdraws money, all group members receive a message. Despite the application being used on smartphones, members with feature phones can still access this information since the app is configured to send out text messages too. Therefore, each group only needs one smartphone.” 

Jacinta finds that by using the app, saving is now faster and group financial records are now better protected. Keeping money safe using manual records was difficult. Her community members now find it easier to access big bank loans using their records. This contributes to better livelihoods.

Watch the automation video

The Inclusive Finance Programme (IFP) was financed by Stiftung ESPERANZA, Credit Suisse Foundation, Kanton Basel–Landschaft, Kanton Zurich, Stadt Zurich, among others, and was part of the Swisscontact Development Programme, which was co-financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).